A former Elkin High School teacher was remembered Monday night as one who was able to reach all students in her classroom, not just the brightest or the “creative” ones or the average ones.
The late Julia Holthouser Richards, who taught at Elkin High School for 23 years, was honored during a special presentation at the Elkin City Schools Board of Education meeting by having the school system’s Teacher of the Year award renamed in her honor.
While her former student, Doug Reinhardt, spearheaded the effort to honor Richards, who was Mrs. Holthouser while she was teaching, in some way, he said Monday, “I was not alone in this. I had a lot of back up.”
His initial request was to have the high school media center named in her honor, because it stands for learning. “But I’m glad the board decided to name the award in her honor, because it stands for teaching,” he said.
When he surveyed his graduating class about who was the best teacher, Reinhardt said Richards was named most often.
In quoting classmate Ralph Cook, he said, “As a teacher she was one of the few whose mission it was to make us think.”
The former students said she was as good as, and in many cases better, than even their college professors, Reinhardt said.
“All of us as educators hope we make an impact and we touch the future,” said Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe. “Tonight we’re honoring a teacher who touched the future. This is the teacher we hope we can be, that we’re remembered fondly. She made every student feel like she could touch the top, and she helped them get there. She wanted her students to accept challenges.”
In a video interview with Richards prior to her death, of which a short clip was shared Monday, she explains there are three types of students — the academic stars, the average students and the creative type, as she calls them. Reinhardt said, “She was very effective in reaching the academic and bringing out the best in them. She said quite often the average were the ones with the leadership skills, the people skills. And the dark side were the creative types. It’s hard for them to follow the structure.
“That was what made Mrs. Holthouser great. She could reach them all. That’s the key,” he said.
Bledsoe presented three plaques Monday night as Richards’ sons and their spouses were recognized. One was the plaque honoring all past teachers of the year, with the award being renamed on the top of the plaque as the Elkin City Schools Julia Holthouser Richards Teacher of the Year. Also, he presented a plaque which will hang on the Elkin High School wall honor Richards, and the third was the actual plaque which will be given to this year’s Teacher of the Year for the school system when it is named in June.
Speaking on behalf of his family, Robert Holthouser said, “Thank you. This is a tremendous honor.”
He said if his mother were still alive, “She would deflect the honor.” He said to her she was part of a faculty, of a team.
“If you listen, the former students don’t say she was their favorite teacher, they say she was the best teacher,” Holthouser pointed out. “The best teacher is one who challenges you, teaches you to learn. She taught me how to read, to write and to learn.
“Thank you so much. It is a great honor. She was a great teacher,” he said.
Elkin Mayor Lestine Hutchens, a former student of Richards, said she was “one of the nicest people on Earth.”
“Not only did she receive letters from former students, but she wrote letters,” said Hutchens. “All my life she was a cheerleader for all of us. There’s nothing like the joy you get when someone you admired was happy you were here and doing well.”
“We think it is well deserved,” said Bledsoe.
A motion to formally rename the teacher of the year award in Richards honor was made by school board member James Freeman, and seconded by board member Dr. Jane Riley. It passed unanimously.
Following the vote, board Chairman Dr. Richard Brinegar said, “She is a living example that teachers will carry forward.
“We’ve gained those who have reinvested in the community, and I’m so proud to be a small part of it. What a great living legacy she will be.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.